On Wednesday, June 30, the Canadian Hockey League held its annual Import Draft where CHL teams got the opportunity to add import talent to their teams. There is two rounds of the draft, and a team can pass on or trade their pick at any time. Just to remind you, CHL clubs are permitted to carry only two import players on their team or protected list every year.
While the Import Draft can be a bit of a crap shoot, many of the players drafted do come over and can have an impact. Let's breakdown the results of the 2010 Import Draft.
26 of 26 players selected came to the Ontario Hockey League (100%)
21 of 26 players selected lasted the entire OHL season with their clubs (81%)
10 (open for debate) of 26 players had a significant impact on their OHL teams (38%)
Looking at these results, last year's Import Draft was a very significant one for the OHL. 10 real impact players were added to the league, of which the majority are sticking around for the 2011-2012 season. Also, over 80% of the picks managed to be useful enough players that they spent the entire season with their clubs. Contrast that with 2009, which was around 50%, and you've got a very successful draft.
You never really truly know what you're getting in these players, despite what scouting reports or first hand accounts may tell you. Is this year's Import Draft a good one? Let's examine some of the selections with the help of some foreign hockey experts.
1. London Knights - Olli Maatta - Defenseman
Leading up to the draft, there was a lot of hype about the Knights possibly selecting potential first overall pick in 2012 Mikhail Grigorenko. When it came out that Maatta was going to be London's guy, some Knights fans appeared to be a little disappointed. But they shouldn't be. Maatta is a legitimate contender for the top half of the first round in 2012 and is a guy on everyone's radar. HF's Chapin Landvogt even goes as far as to compare him to Janne Niinimaa ("but with more heart"). He looks like the perfect compliment to London's current defense, which is missing a confident offensive creator.
Scouting Report: HF's Chapin Landvogt says, "He's a thoroughbred. Not always the most economical skater, but logged tons of minutes at the U-18 and was safe and sound in all three zones. Hustles and is always awake out there. Seemed to always take the body as his first choice when defending. A coach's dream player. Good at deciding when to skate with the puck, when to pass it and when to just dump it in the zone or shoot it. Usually quite crouched and concentrated when handling the puck in the offensive zone. Reminded me a wee bit of a Janne Niinimaa - but with a heart. Has good jump, although it sometimes looks like there's something in his pants holding him back. Sounds funny, I know, but it jumped out at me. His stance has his legs generally far apart. Has skyrocketed in development. Wasn't even on the charts last year at this time and likely had the most ice time of any defenseman for Finland. Was also the youngest player on the WJC team. Definitely a kid you see improving in leaps and bounds once he gets used to the NA style." Here's an interview Chapin did with Maatta this season. Here's what our anonymous European scout had to say. "Excellent prospect, has made great improvement during the season(I was lucky to see him at fourth tourneys throughout the season). For me top 15 for 2012. Simply said, heart and soul player, just leader on ice, great passion and determination, excellent stamina. Great ability to skate the puck out of zone under pressure, makes quick decision with puck in all zones, has vision. Heavy shot. His skating looked better and better every time I saw him. Loves to lead the rush and doesn´t miss opportunity to join the rush. Still I don´t remember situations when he would be late on backcheck into his D-position, has strong instinct and knows when to go and when to stay back. Strong in battles, tights forward up along the boards, banger, tough and physical.Very decisive handling the puck, excellent in moving the puck out of zone distributing the puck quickly on forwards, very accurately. Passes are crisp and accurate. Heavy low shot from point. Moves well on PP at the point, can do both, move the puck as QB or be used as triggerman. Attacks opposing forwards early, angles them to the board, good gap. Has improved skating throughout the season, especially footwork, very strong on skates, has power in stride."
4. Peterborough Petes - Peter Ceresnak - Defenseman
A draft pick of the New York Rangers this year (6th round), Ceresnak is a big defenseman from Slovakia who should help to shore up Peterborough's defense this season. The 6'3, 210lbs rearguard served as the captain of team Slovakia at the Under 18's this year and even has some experience playing against men in the Slovakian men's league.
Scouting Report: Our anonymous source that scouts in Europe said this, "Not a big fan of him, I don't consider him as NHL prospect, should be good player for Peterborough though. Well built physically, very strong on skates. Feet are a bit slow and heavy, line skating, stride is okay. Has some ability to skate the puck out of zone under pressure and make good firm, first pass. Strong in battles along the boards, fights forwards up there, can play physical games but lacks timing on his hits at times. Not really smart positionally, doesn't read the play well in own zone, could be beaten 1 on 1 down low and gets out of position looking for hit. Not instinctive or creative player offensively, lacks ability to lead PP from point. Shot is heavy but release is a bit slow. Doesn't read the play quickly enough to make right play with puck under pressure at times."
7. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds - Egor Malenkikh - Defenseman
With their first Import pick, the Hounds went for big Russian defenseman Egor Malenkikh, a 6'3 rearguard who plays with Russia's 1994 select team. Interestingly enough, he was the 4th overall pick in the 2011 KHL Draft by SKA St. Petersburg. So there has to be some doubt as to whether he reports, although with the NHL draft success Russian players have had the past few years could sway his stance. He's already on NHL Central Scouting's radar as they have him listed as a player to watch for 2012 (here). It seems like if he does come over, he could make a pretty reasonable impact.
Scouting Report: Alessandro Seren Rosso provides us with a scouting report. "He's a big guy and a good skater who has very good puck skills. He plays first pairing hockey with Team Russia 94. A very good player, but as far as I know he's not too interested in reporting, but we'll see." Our anonymous Euro scout says, "Big, physical, solid skater, has mobility for his size. Average skills and not really smart with puck. Strong on skates, likes to get involved physically. Heavy shot but lacks accuracy. Thought process with puck is questionable, reading is a bit slow, makes turnovers regularly."
10. Brampton Battalion - Patrik Machac - Forward
The Battalion have added a talented offensive center, but one who lacks size. Machac played well for the Czech Republic at the Under 17's this year (leading his team in scoring) and is listed as a player to watch for the 2012 from the Czech Republic by NHL Central Scouting (here). As we all know, Brampton was an offensively challenged team last year, so here's hoping Machac can add some dynamic ability to a line up that needs it.
Scouting Report: Our anonymous European scout had this to say, "undersized center plays much bigger than his size. Plays a very intense and competitive game. Strong skater with speed, acceleration, agility, shifty. Skilled and creative, strong stickhandler and puck control in tight. Has vision and passing touch. Not afraid to play in high traffic and takes hits to make play."
13. Belleville Bulls - Danill Zharkov - Forward
Zharkov split this past season between the MHL (Russian Junior League) and the USHL. His midseason departure to North American suggests that he's likely a sure thing to report. He has good size at 6'3 and based on the scouting report I have received below, he seems like a guy who could find success on the big ice in Belleville.
Scouting Report: Alessandro Seren Rosso says "He's a very fast player with a good offensive skill set. Zharkov is not a superstar but can get his job done." Meanwhile, TSR's Scott Campbell got a few looks of Zharkov this season, but said he didn't really stand out and was receiving limited ice time in Tri-City. Also, TSR's main USHL contributor Rich Michalowski had this to say. "The big Russian joined the Storm mid-way through the season. He has the look of a player who has the talent and potential to be considered a top 120 pick in 2012. Zharkov skates hard and with a purpose and has good speed that will improve as he refines his skating just a bit by lengthening his stride. Offensively, Zharkov has the awareness and ability to get the puck to his teammates as well as an above average shot. However, his one on one skills and creativity are his strengths. Zharkov displayed those skills often when I watched him and while on some occasions his hands weren’t as quick as his legs, he made some sick plays with the puck and beat several players one on one. Plus, Zharkov showed not only a willingness to throw his weight around but also finished his checks and at times was a dominant player in both ends. Zharkov also appeared to score points with his teammates when he went after a player who took a run at one of the Storm and appeared ready to drop the gloves if the other player obliged. Zharkov is a player to watch for sure."
16. Mississauga Majors - Sergey Kuptsov - Forward
There's no question that once he arrived, Maxim Kitsyn had a profound impact on the Majors offense and was one of the team's most consistent scoring threats. With this pick, they seem to have targeted another Russian player who brings some of the same things to the table.
Scouting Report: Kuptsov is a very solid all around player and a potential power forward prospect. "He's a good player," says Alessandro Seren Rosso. "He's big and fast and can play decently also on defense. I think he's a very good pick as he can score and play physical too."
STATS: Salavat Yulaev 94, Russian junior regional leagues, 32 GP, 21+19, 38 PIM (stick tap to Alessandro for digging these up for me)
19. Sudbury Wolves - Johan Mattsson - Goaltender
22. Kitchener Rangers - Radek Faksa - Forward
It would appear that the Rangers did quite well for themselves with this selection. Even if it meant giving up the rights to Gabriel Landeskog (who has to be considered all but a lock to play in Colorado this year), Kitchener fans should be happy. Faksa played a lot in the Czech U20 league this year, as a 16/17 year old and is listed as one of the top players from the Czech Republic for the 2012 draft...and a possible first round selection.
Scouting Report: Our anonymous European scout says "Excellent pick by Kitchener, Faksa is very good NHL prospect, right now I see him as late first or second round prospect. Versatile, two-way forward who can play successfully both, as center or at the wing. Smart and instinctive with puck. Good puck skills and very good hockey sense and vision. Can handle the puck in speed and solid hands. Makes creative sets-up around the net and good finishing touch. Competitive, good heart and character. Needs to add strength and improve balance but still able to overpower and compete against stronger players along the boards. Wins battles down low and not afraid to take huge checks to make a play. Strong in puck pursuit on forecheck and on backcheck. Drives the net and finishes checks hard. Solid speed and acceleration, needs to improve agility."
25. Barrie Colts - Mathias Niederberger - Goaltender
An interesting selection by the Colts, only because their selecting a goaltender to add to their growing collection of netminders. With John Chartrand, Clint Windsor and Josh Malecki already with the team, you have to wonder what the motivation is. Niederberger is someone who already has experience playing against men in the DEL and is likely being brought in to try and create some healthy competition. May the best man win.
Scouting Report: HF's Chapin Landvogt says "Well, Niederberger is a BIG surprise. His father was a big time pro in the German scene well into the 90s. He's been playing with the Düsseldorf organization in recent years. Didn't know he'd even be considered outside of the country."
28. Guelph Storm - Tanner Richard - Forward
Looking to help counter the loss of forwards Peter Holland, Taylor Beck, and Michael Latta to the pro ranks (more than likely), the Storm went with a forward in the Import draft. Richard is the son of a Canadian, playing in Switzerland (father is former OHL star Mike Richard...not Richards). Guelph is going to need all the help they can get offensively this year so I'm sure they're hoping he'll come over rather than make money in the NLA.
Scouting Report: Hockey's Future's Rafik Soliman gives us his report. "Tanner Richard is the son of former North American pro Mike Richard and due to his bloodlines Tanner is blessed with a high hockey-IQ. Although a playmaking type forward, he possesses a nice, accurate and hard shot which he doesn’t hesitate to use. Has an average frame for a forward, but isn’t afraid to use is. Is an ok skater, but his speed and intensity level should suit the North American game well. Can lose his composure and take penalties due to undisciplinary behavior. It’s still not 100% clear if he’s making the trip to the OHL, since his hometown pro-team, the Rapperswil-Jona Lakers, are fighting hard to have him in their team."
31. Erie Otters - Sondre Olden - Forward
34. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds - David Elsner - Forward
With their first pick, the Hounds tried to hit a home run, but with this second pick the Hounds seemed more focused on drafting an older player who can likely step into their line up and play a depth role. Elsner is one of the few NHL Draft picks part of this crop (Nashville 7th in 2010), but isn't likely to have a ton of offensive potential.
Scouting Report: HF's Chapin Landvogt says "Elsner is a bit of a surprise as well, but he is a Nashville draft pick and didn't really take the step in development he was hoped to last year. Should he head over, I can't imagine he'll have a big impact. Average sized boy who plays a chippy game. Just doesn't show much offensive upside." Here's what our anonymous European scout had to say: "I liked his energy, competitiveness, work ethic but . Checking line winger even at level of junior competitions. Finishes checks, competes hard in puck pursuit, skates hard all the time, battles for puck in corners. However he brings little offensively. Skills, hockey sense, vision, instincts, creativity are very modest. Decent hands for puckhandling though."
37. Erie Otters - Vladimir Tkachev - Forward
The Otters are hoping they found something a little better than Timofei Tankeev last year. Tkachev was eligible for this year's NHL Entry Draft, but was not even ranked by Central Scouting. He performed admirably for Russia internationally and could be a bit of a diamond in the rough.
Scouting Report: Alessandro Seren Rosso says "He has potential. He's no Mikhail Grigorenko, but he has good offensive instincts and is disciplined." Our anonymous Euro scout says, "Looks smaller than listed. Good vision and creativity in offensive zone, makes nice sets-up from the board, good passing touch. Some skills, handles puck well in tight. Purely finesse player, lacks any physical aspect in his game but at least not afraid to go into high traffic."
40. Owen Sound Attack - Michael Schumacher - Forward
43. Saginaw Spirit - Vadim Khlopotov - Forward
Khlopotov is an undersized offensive forward who spent some time in the MHL and with the Russian Under 17 team this season. The biggest question will be whether he's able to fight through checks and is strong enough to put up offensive numbers next season.
Scouting Report: Alessandro Seren Rosso says "Khlopotov is a very gifted offensive player who simply has size issues. He can also be aggressive at times. He's a good project pick who'll need to get stronger." Our anonymous Euro scout says this, "Good skills, some scoring instinct and goes straight to the net. Can hit pretty hard, one of few Russians who can play at least a bit physical. Good hands and hockey sense. Solid competitor at both end. Skates well, has speed, acceleration, agility, balance."
46. Oshawa Generals - Sebastian Uvira - Forward
Uvira is a scrappy offensive winger who made a bit of a name for himself with solid play at this year's Under 18's. If he comes over, he could fit in very nicely with the group of forwards Oshawa has accumulated for next season. But he apparently has a contract with Augsburger of the DEL for next season, which clouds the likelihood that he comes over.
Scouting Report: HF's Chapin Landvogt says "Uvira is the interesting one. Very solid kid who is responsible in a two-way capacity. Decent size. Opened eyes at the U-18. Actually had a very solid all-round season for the German junior champions. Could have an impact similar to the one the recently drafted Noebels had in Seattle. It's possible that he'll not be good for more than 35 points though." Here's what our anonymous European scout had to say: "Son of former Czech national team D Eduard Uvira(World champion in 1985) has dual citizenship(Czech and German). There are some intriguing tools. Has smooth stride with good speed and acceleration. Good size and willing to use it, plays with energy, initiates contact and finishes his checks hard. Can beat d with speed and finesse moves, quick hands/stick. Unfortunately, he has got little hockey sense, he isn´t instinctive and creative player, his decision making with the puck is very questionable and he is poor without the puck."
49. Sarnia Sting - Ludvig Rensfeldt - Forward
52. Niagara IceDogs - Jaroslav Pavelka - Goaltender
Was the third ranked goaltender in Europe by NHL Central Scouting for the 2011 NHL Draft, but went undrafted. With a solid year in North America, I'm sure Pavelka is hoping he can turn some heads. With a solid camp, he sets up to be the back up to Mark Visentin in Niagara, a very important job seeing as Visentin will be missing some games (likely) for the WJC's this year.
Scouting Report: Our anonymous European scout says "Nice natural tools and skills, flexible, athletic, good size but technique, anticipation and mental toughness is lacking. Good reflexes, quick glove and moving across the net, skates well. Challenges shooters hard, but tends to overplay the first shot and lacks poise and patience. Many acrobatic saves as results of being often out of position and lack of anticipation, many wasted moves in net. Good balance, competitive, never gives up on shot, vocal, plays with temperament. Likes to go out of net to handle the puck but he is not good puckhandler. Decent absorbing shots by his body but kicks out some big rebounds with his pads. With good goaltending coach, he could surprise some people."
55. Owen Sound Attack - Artur Gavrus - Forward
The little Belarussian Gavrus would appear to be a pint sized offensive dynamo, after the performance he put on at the Division 1 Under 18's this year (as a 17 year old). He lead his team in scoring and was named one of the top player's in the tournament. But at only 5'9 (and an apparent 150lbs), can he play in the OHL?
Scouting Report: Alessandro Seren Rosso says "Gavrus is someone who's been scouted by CHL teams for over a year now. He can do it all offensively, score and set up linemates for good scoring opportunities."
58. Sudbury Wolves - Jiri Sekac - Forward
If the name sounds familiar, it should. Sekac was a 2009 Import selection by Peterborough...and a major disappointment who lasted all of 8 games with the Petes before being cut. But after a very solid offensive season, the 19 year old Sekac is hoping to give the OHL another try. He lead his USHL team (Youngstown) in scoring last year, so there's a chance he's another Kuchin for the Wolves (hopefully without the slow start).
Scouting Report: TSR's Scott Campbell isn't quite sold that Sekac's second tenure in the OHL will be much different. "Sekac is better than he was 2 years ago, but I don’t think he’s going to be much of an impact player in the OHL. He’s got a weird stride and he gets knocked off his game by physical players." TSR's main USHL contributor, Rich Michalowski agrees to some degree, "Sekac improved alot from the previous season and was without a doubt Youngstown's best and most consistent player besides Mayfield. He easily had the best skill set of the Phantoms and would be a contributor at one of the better NCAA programs had he taken that route. He's not overly physical but yet showed a willingness to get feisty at times. I've seen him fight before and while not a great fighter, did not show any fear. That said, I am anxious to see how long it takes him to adapt to the OHL level in what will be a physically grinding schedule."
I WILL UPDATE AS I GET MORE INFO. WAITING ON STUFF FROM A SWEDISH & SWISS CONTACT.